As our family is finally emerging from the grip of a stubborn stomach bug that ruled us for nearly a month, I’ve been reflecting on the dynamics of “germ etiquette” in my mommy friend network — and how I often feel like my (and my kids’) social survival hinges upon my mastery of all its subtleties.
Admittedly, I may have made some beginners’ missteps as this illness ran its course (my kids are rarely sick), but I am downright rattled by how, in the realm of germ politics, a fellow mom’s judgment can be harshly swift.
I was administered a particularly stinging germ etiquette slap when, in the midst of a family and friend get-together, I unexpectedly had to rush my 3-year old daughter to the bathroom as the stomach bug initially struck. I returned to the living room to find a mommy friend had corralled her husband, scooped up her child and left our house in the meantime — without so much as a goodbye. I was left wondering how I had wronged this mom, and came to the conclusion that she had expected me to more accurately connect my daughter’s lack of appetite that day (which I had mentioned to her in conversation) to a full-blown illness, and more appropriately nix our social plans.
I see this unspoken pressure to be an omniscient “mommy germ manager” manifest in other ways, such as in the “germ detective”-themed e-mails from other moms on an exhaustive search for the source of their kids’ latest infection, curious about any symptoms that may have popped up in my kids since the last time we all played together.
I believe this etiquette pressure also seeps through in the fervent apologies I get when a fellow mom’s child comes down with something either during or soon after a playdate. In my book, absolutely no crime has been committed, but perhaps I need to review the mommy germ management manual that everyone else seems to have read.
I’ve emerged from these experiences with a sickening fear of walking the germ etiquette tightrope. It’s enough to make me resolve to protect the friendships I have left by quarantining my kids at even a hint of a runny nose. And any new mommy friendships I pursue will have to come with a disclaimer that my diagnosis skills may be weak, but I sincerely mean no “ill” intent.
–By Susan Busch, PHILADELPHIA MOMS BLOG